Monthly Archives: May 2009

Back Talk on Back Labels

By Margaret Snook, May 10, 2009

Walk into any decent grocery store, or better yet a specialty shop, and you’ll find hundreds of bottles of wine to choose from. How to decide? You could (1) know what you’re looking for, grab it and run, (2) ask someone who works there and hope that they know their stuff—and fortunately, they increasingly do, or (3) check out the bottle and decide for yourself.

There’s a heck of a lot of marketing going on in and on a wine bottle. Dozens of decisions have been made about the size and shape, the color and weight, the depth of the punt, the type of closure (cork, screw cap, etc.), and then, of course, the most obvious of all, the label, or better put, labels.

The role of the front label is clear enough. It has to be eye-catching and provide certain required information: identifying characteristics and a design that hopefully (though not always successfully) attracts sufficient attention to entice someone to pick it up and read the back label. And that, right there, is where too many wineries fall short and miss the good-marketing boat. Inadequate information, unattractive presentation, excessively small font size, and poor translations mean the bottle goes back on the shelf, and the consumer moves on to the next bottle—and the next—searching for something that sounds interesting enough to walk it down the aisle to the register.

Back label: clincher or a clanker?

A back label is the place where a winery gets to tell consumers what’s actually in the bottle! It’s their final chance to clinch the sale by convincing us that this is the wine that we want on our table tonight… But, Oh! the missed opportunities! What do we get? Time and time again, we turn the bottle over and find yet another densely printed back label—way too often in unreadable 4-point font. Get out your magnifying glass, and you’ll learn about family history, soil textures, climate types, and canopy management, but little or nothing about what the wine tastes like.

True Example:

This blend of ___, ___, ___ (fill in 3 varieties) is a limited production wine from our ____ (very long name) vineyard in the ____ Valley. It was aged for ___ months in _____ (fill in French or American) oak barrels.

That’s it? Some 40 words dedicated to selling the wine. Take away the varietal and valley information repeated from the front label and what do we get? 14 words that tell us that the winery happens to own a vineyard and some oak barrels. So what? —CLANK— Would that convince anyone to shell out hard-earned lucas (that’s “bucks” in Chilean) for an unknown wine? Doubt it.

Back labels are small to begin with, and there’s not much room left over after including the bar code, warning labels, and other obligatory legal yada-yada, but why not dedicate that precious remaining space to the consumer? Leave the geek talk for the tech sheets that go out to buyers and distributors who might actually have some idea of what it all means. Tell the consumers something they really want to know, and give them what they need: plain language information they can use to make a decision on buying your wine!

So, on behalf of consumers everywhere, I’ve taken the liberty of drafting the following letter:

Dear Wineries:

We, the wine drinkers of the world, have a bone to pick with you. We want to try new wines, we’d love to experiment, and are even willing to try yours, but you’re not making it very easy on us. We are overwhelmed by volume and selection and frankly, more than a bit confused. We like your bottle, your label caught our eye, and we look to the back label to convince us to take it home… but we don’t know what “alluvial” means. Or “spur-pruned.” Or “mid-palate” either, for that matter, and we certainly don’t know what they have to do with anything we want to drink with dinner. And you know what? We don’t care how many hectares you have planted, unless of course we discover that this wine is really good and you’re trying to tell us that there’s plenty more where this came from. And sure, while it’s nice to have a bit of back story about your family and your winery’s architecture, or the llama that eats the grass, what we really want to know is what’s in the bottle.

We aren’t asking for much—just a little useful information that will give us a hint about what to expect from this wine. What does it taste like? Is it fruity? Oaky? An easy-drinking fun wine for movie night or a sophisticated, complex wine that will impress our guests? Is it bright and acidic and perfect for ceviche? Rich and heady and ideal with lamb? A refreshing aperitif best served chilled on a summer afternoon? Give us some ideas! Do a bit of marketing! Help us decide!

We’ve got the money and want to try something new. Please give us a hand. Convince us!

Cheers, Salud,

The Wine Drinking Public

Consumers: Support your local chapter of United Wine Drinkers of the World (UWDW) by leaving a comment here!


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La Gatita

By Margaret Snook, May 5, 2009

Somehow—for reasons beyond my comprehension—the seaside town of Concón, in Central Chile, has managed to get away with declaring itself the “Gastronomic Capital of Chile.” Yes, there are plenty of restaurants, but the vast majority are the typical seaside eateries with white-shirted, bow-tied waiters pushing outdated wines and overcooked fish. There are few worth writing home (or anywhere else) about. And then there’s La Gatita.

La Gatita seafood restaurant in Concón

La Gatita seafood restaurant in Concón

My husband and I have been hearing about La Gatita, a favorite seafood restaurant in the Las Higuerillas section of Concón (near the yacht club) for years. We’ve even tried going a few times to find out what’s behind all the to-do. But it fills up fast, and in a country where Sunday dinner begins at 2:00—or even 3:00, the line forms outside La Gatita at 11:30, and it’s filled to its 18-table capacity within minutes after it opens its doors at noon.

We got there at 12:20 and were fourth on the waiting list. “Table for two? 20 or 30 minutes,” she said. Hah! An hour 20, in fact, but we were determined. Getting a table was our goal of the day. Sure, the place next door (Calipso) was completely empty and had a better view, but we were on a mission and installed ourselves in the parking lot with the others.

This is clearly a picada, a simple place, with too-close tables and plenty of hustle and bustle, but the wait staff is fast and generally efficient. Hot rolls and spicy pebre appeared on the table within minutes, and the generously large and strong pisco sours we ordered just moments later.

We opted for an order of machas (razor clams)—half a la parmesana, half con salsa verde. The salsa verde (green sauce) turned out to be more onion than parsley, and the parmesana was creamy style, served on the half shell and swimming in sauce. Yummy, although I prefer the standard drier, creamless style with lemon juice. The machas themselves were perfectly tender.

Like most regional restaurants and nearly every picada in the country, the wine list leaves something to be desired. We wanted a half bottle of Chardonnay, and although a Casillero del Diablo appears on the menu, the only half-bottle whites were a Santa Emiliana Sauvignon and a Carmen Rhin. We needed more body to go with the fried fish and ended up going classical with a Santa Rita 120 Cabernet (a light red holds up better to the fried batter than a light-bodied white).

The wine appeared before we had gotten half way through the pisco sour. She popped the cork on the Sauvignon Blanc before we had a chance to say “tinto.” “¡EEEEE!” She responded, in that wide-eyed, air-sucking way that so many Chilean women do… it quickly disappeared and the correct wine appeared in its place, along with a big, apologetic smile, earning her good service points despite the error.

Congrio Frito (Batter-fried Conger Eel)

Congrio Frito (Batter-fried Conger Eel)

Everything happens fast here. Our main course showed up before the first course was cleared, but the waitress seemed to have 6 arms and managed to lift one set of dishes and smoothly replace them with the next set all at once. Suddenly I was seated before an enormous and perfectly prepared congrio frito (batter-fried conger eel or kingclip), the kind I’d been yearning for for ages. It was big and golden with crispy coating, flaky flesh, and accompanied by several fresh-cut lemon halves. “The Mr.” wanted merluza, which was unavailable, so he opted for albacora, which is usually simply grilled with butter and capers or almonds, but he too hankered for fried batter. Not the best choice of the day; he’ll stick to tradition next time. The fries served along side would’ve benefited from a few more minutes in the fryer to crisp and golden up their limp-ish pallor.

Singer in La Gatita

Singer in La Gatita

In typical picada style, a singer strolls through about once per seating (they turn this place over about 5 times on busy Sundays). ¡Bésame! Bésame mucho… he sings with a smile bigger than his voice. Tips are expected as he strolls from table to table.

The check

The check

The portions are generous, and dessert, out of the question, although the meal did end on a sweet note. The bill: not cheap, but a quite reasonable $20.000 (about $35 US) including tip for a Sunday lunch for 2.

The final conclusion? The mystery remains as to why people are so willing to line up and wait an hour-plus to get in. It’s good, sure, as far as picadas go, but great? Mmm… there’s still room for improvement.

Av. Borgoño s/n
Higuerillas, Concón
Tel: (56-32) 281-4235


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Finca Flichman Extra Brut Chardonnay Malbec

By Margaret Snook, May 4, 2009

Finca Flischman Extra Brut Malbec

Finca Flichman Extra Brut Malbec

Here’s a new one. Sparkling wine made from Chardonnay with 20% Malbec in the mix. Interesting! Leave it to the Argentines—the only thing they love more than sparkling wines is their Malbec, so why not put them together?

In case you’re wondering, no, it’s not red…not even pink… just slightly orangeier than normal. No surprise there though, Champagne has been made with Pinot Noir forever without it being rose. Note to wine geeks: feel free to skip over the next paragraph.

The color of red wine comes from the grape skins—take a look the next time you nibble a grape—dark on the outside, light on the inside! The trick with wine is that the longer the wine remains in contact with the skins, the more color (and tannins) it will pick up, so by reverse logic, it’s also easy enough to make a white wine from red grapes just by separating the juice (called “must”) from the skins and treating it the same as the must from white grapes.

Since wine made from red grapes (with or without their skins) have more body and structure, including them in a sparkling wine results in a wine with more character, one that is more than just a light appetizer wine, one that can hold its own at the table with all kinds of foods.

I’m not saying this will hold up to a gaucho’s thick and juicy bife chorizo like a Malbec would, but it could certainly get me in the mood! Truth be told though, the jury’s still out on this one. I can’t quite decide, although my husband—definitely not a sparkling-friendly type—is pretty impressed. Let’s go step by step:

The color is a deep, slightly amberish-yellow that portend s either something oddly oxidized (not the case) or with more body than usual (is the case). The bubbles are fine enough, and since the bottle doesn’t say methode champenoise anywhere, I assume it was made by the less elaborate charmat method that can tend to produce big and clumsy bubbles, which is certainly not an issue here.

Aromatically speaking, it issues forth plenty of yeasty aromas and the expected bit of apple, but there’s something very different going on in this glass—there are some very unexpected grassy, earthy, dry leafy, maybe even tobaccoey notes (ok, that’s the beauty of mixing English with wine—I get to invent words—and once you try the wine, you’ll understand them!). This is work of Malbec.

But the truth is in the tasting, and it all holds up there. It’s got structure, it’s got body, it’s got just the right fizz to put a bit of jazz in your mouth with that explosive sensation that some charmats produce. It refreshes, it sparks the appetite… but not for any typical kind of appetizers, no, I want something heartier. Charqui comes to mind—a special kind of horse jerky made here in Chile that can be made into incredibly tasty appetizers. But on the more down-to-earth side, how about a chicken liver pâté on toast, hummus on pita, bacon-wrapped scallop skewers, cold lentil salad with bacon bits (or not)… you get the idea…

As an aside: they could do themselves a favor and work on the label. They’ve mixed black with an iridescent pearl paper and small red, gold, and silver lettering. I’m sure it’s meant to be elegant, but sorry, doesn’t cut it. The effect is cold, wordy and hard to read… too much work sends me on to the next bottle on the shelf.

Denomination of Origin: Mendoza Argentina
Alcohol: 12.5%
Sold: Vinoteca

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J. Bouchon Las Mercedes Ensamblaje 2006

By Margaret Snook, May 2, 2009

J. Bouchon Las Mercedes Blend 2006

J. Bouchon Las Mercedes Blend 2006

Even without peeking at the label, there are two things that are immediately evident upon the first glance at this wine: (1) it has a good share of Cabernet in it, and (2) this is no spring chicken. How so? First, Cabernet, by its nature, tends to be more plum-colored and less brilliant than most other varieties, so there’s the tip-off. Then the age thing. Again, it shows in the glass—that plummy color goes a bit darker and loses a bit of its original shimmer. Don’t get me wrong, this is no geezer—not by a long shot—but it’s got some evolution on it (which has its benefits). It spent its first year in the barrel (French, we’re told), and a couple more in the bottle. That’s not a long time as far as wine goes, but since most Chilean wine is sold (and consumed) within the first year or two, the fact that this 3-year-old is on the market now is a bit of an anomaly… and as such at least worth paying attention to.

There’s plenty of plum here, from the color to the aroma to the flavor. Some fresh fig, some blackberry, and even a touch of violet too. With a bit of O2 in the glass, Bouchon’s tell-tale mint comes through. Paying a bit more attention, you’ll notice something meaty about it—that’s the Syrah talking. And then there’s a hint of tobacco, most likely from the Malbec.

Take a sip. There’s plum there too, along with a bit of dark chocolate, balsamic vinegar, maybe a bit of soy sauce. It’s got Cab tannins, so there’s some grip there, but they’ve softened and smoothed out around the edges. The Maule Valley acidity is there too, keeping it fresh.

This is a fairly complex wine, which is simply a fancy way of saying that all its descriptors don’t jump out at you all at once. Time in the bottle have allowed its aromas and flavors to meld into something all their own, making them harder to describe individually, making this wine more unique, lending it a character of its own.

To me this fits into my “grown up wine” category. It’s well-made and would make a great food wine (I’m thinking beef roulade with bacon and mixed mushrooms, maybe a wild rice pilaf or rostied potatoes on the side). But it’s kind of a Frank Sinatra wine. I know he was good, but he doesn’t excite me. I want a bit more spark in my wine, just like my music…

Denomination of Origin: Maule Valley
Cabernet Sauvignon (45%), Syrah (40%), Malbec (15%)
Alcohol: 13.5%
Sold: Vinoteca


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De Martino 347 Vineyards Syrah 2007

By Margaret Snook, May 1, 2009

Viña De Martino 347 Vineyards Syrah 2007

Viña De Martino 347 Vineyards Syrah 2007

Viña De Martino’s 347 line is named in honor of the winery’s work done in 347 vineyards throughout the country.

This is my favorite of all of De Martino’s 347 line. Maybe it’s because of the 70% fruit from Choapa. To date, De Martino is the only winery putting the Choapa Denomination of Origin on their labels. No wineries proper have come forward yet, but De Martino is working with some producers who are picking some amazing fruit out of there.

What this wine’s got going for it is tons of blueberry and cranberry fruit backed up by a bit of dark chocolate and deliciously smooth tannins that are kept in shape by just the right measure of acidity to keep the juices flowing and leave you eager for another glass. This is the good stuff.

Denomination of Origin: Wine of Chile 70% Choapa / 30% Cachapoal)
Alcohol: 14%
Valley: “Wine of Chile”
Price: $3500
Sold (Chile): Wine Shops (Vinoteca, El Mundo del Vino)

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